Essential Sports Nutrition


Breakthrough IM swim and baked pasta casserole

The funny thing about training, or fitness in general, is all the highs and lows that come with it. Of course, who doesn't love to have a good workout but then again, considering the complexity of the human body, perhaps we should be thanking the body more often for any workout for it is easy for the body to fail and I think many times, we take it for granted. All the muscles, organs and metabolic processes working perfectly just for us to swim, bike and run or zumba, yoga or jazzercise. 

As a long-time athlete, I recognize that great performances are not made in weeks or months but overtime. The key is consistency and always giving your best effort. I find that for many athletes, there's an expectation as to how the body is to perform each day and for others, just getting out the door is success...anything else that follows is a bonus. But no matter your reason for working out (or training), the most important component is making progress to reach your short and long term goals. There's no point of an action plan if you don't have a goal to reach. 

As usual, I have been enjoying my swim sets in the pool. I have designed swim sets to help both Karel and I improve in the water but also to improve our efficiency as triathletes. The past three weeks have been challenging and they were all leading up to the big set which was done yesterday (Friday). 

3 x 1000's @ IM pace

I have had mostly good days in the pool over the past few weeks but I did have a few days when I couldn't get into the groove. Although I found myself a bit frustrated based on my own fitness level at times, it's really hard to for me to regret any workout  for I love using my body and if I am not able to "train" I still love to exercise. Oh, and the fact that I have been swimming for about 20 years makes me a big lover of water....I'm a fish. It's not hard for me to get in but very hard for me to get out. 

After a 500 warm-up, I told Karel we would go right to the main set. Karel was having an off day (which is normal and expected due to 3 tough weeks of training so he was just being smart by backing off) so I kept to my side of the lane and Karel did his own thing.

Having the extra motivation of high school (and young) swimmers in the pool made it easy to push myself but I sure to wish I was young again! Those kids were just blowing by me in the other lanes!!
Not knowing what my body would give for this set, I made up  my mind that I would not count myself out until I tried...for all three of them. I didn't have the best swim (to my standards) on Thurs so I found myself getting into doubting thoughts during warm-up but I  knew if I wanted to have a good set, I would need to jump out of self-doubt and enter a place of "I can". 

1st 1000 - 1:26 pace per 100 yards

Wow, shocker. I could not believe it!! I was so thrilled considering I didn't think I had it in me as was just hoping for 1:30 pace.

After resting 2.5 minutes and sipping on my sport drink (I fuel before and during every  workout in endurance training), it was time for #2. 

2nd 1000- 1:23 pace per 100 yards. 

Holy cow! Again, another shocker! I started to get my groove on for #2 and I felt so smooth in the water and I was able to pace myself so well which was a great confidence booster. I use my Garmin 910xt in the pool and I am able to look at my watch to see my pace (and distance and time). As a long-time swimmer, I think this is just natural in that I can feel my pace, just like an experienced biker can control his/her watts and a runner kinda knows varying paces without looking at his/her watch. 

Ok - so time for #3. I figured I had surprised myself enough that anything around 1:25 would be great. BUT, I told myself, just try and see what happens. 

After 2.5 min rest....

After catching my breath on the wall and Karel telling me I was swimming way to fast in the water, I decided, time to call it a day for me. Scratch the 4500 yard workout planned on the schedule. I warmed down after this last 1000 and went for a recovery spin (90 min) with Karel. Training is a lot like gambling. Stop while you are ahead before you dig yourself into a hole. 

I must have looked at my Garmin 10x's in the morning after the swim because I seriously did not think I had it in me to do those times because I have not been able to execute like that in training. But then again, it only took my mind to help me step up to another level. Amazing how the mind can play an impact on our actions. Positive or careful with your thoughts. Thank you Gloria for continuing to help me realize the power in our/my thinking in all areas of my life. 

After a busy day, it was nearing meal prep time in the evening and I still had a few more emails to respond to. Karel and I have been eating similar foods before weekend training as we would/will before race day, for the past few weeks so for his Friday evening eats, I know he likes either rice or pasta. I have a few favorite pre-race foods but I know what always works best for me before an endurance event (sweet potato, egg, salad, bread/rice) so I am happy to enjoy Karel's pre race meal with him....sacrifices in marriage :) 

Rather than the standard pasta, I decided to do a pasta bake. What made this even better was that I could forget about it for a while and didn't need to "cook" while answering emails. Feel free to add your own veggie options and protein. Enjoy!

Baked Pasta Casserole
(ingredients to serve 2)
Pasta - 4 ounces dry (2 ounces equals about 1 cup cooked - plan for leftovers)
Marinara sauce (1/2 - 1 cup)
Veggies - spinach, corn, peas, onion
Bread crumbs (a few spoonfuls)
Cheese (I used asiago for a nice peppery taste)
Garlic (1 tbsp powder or 1 clove chopped)
Protein of your choice (for animal protein, ~3-4 ounces per person, for other protein, about 20-25g per person of protein)
*Preheat oven to 425 degrees

1. Cook pasta as normal. Drain. 
2. Lightly spray bottom of casserole dish with cooking spray. 
3. Place protein on bottom of dish. 
4. Layer veggies. 
5. Spoon pasta on veggies until covered (I used about 1.5 cups I think). 
6. Spoon marinara on pasta until covered. 
7. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on marinara (light covering). 
8. Top with garlic and a little cheese. 
9. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until pasta is a little crunchy on top. 


Tips for 4th of July "event/holidy" eating and recipes

You name it - cook-outs, holidays, fund raiser, birthdays and weddings - food is often the central ingredient. Because of many food-centered events, it is extremely common for individuals seeking fitness, diet or body composition changes to stress about social functions due to the lack of control and unknown ingredients when it comes to eating food prepared by others.

To the disbelief of many, you can keep your body in good health and still enjoy the holiday eats. So when it comes to eating around the holiday's (ex. 4th of July) you should be able to enjoy the occasional treats without feeling guilty, restricted or frustrated but with your healthy relationship with food. That is - you should always feel better after you eat, than before. Be mindful to not overeat as we all know, it doesn't feel good and for many, when you overeat you say to yourself "I never want to do that again."
What to do if you are planning the event? A well-prepared event planner should always consider creating a healthy event atmosphere, being mindful that your "yuck" may be someone else's "yum."

Here are a few food tips for a great event:
  • Create a buffet of dark leafy greens with all toppings in individual dishes for guests to create their own plant-strong meals.
  • Place dressings, sauces and toppings on the side with easy-to-pour/spoon items for portion control.
  • Home-cooked desserts are often more appreciated than store-bought .
  • Use non/low-fat plain yogurt, fruit purees and applesauce to lower the fat and calorie content when baking with oil, butter, eggs or sour cream. Ex. replace 1 cup butter with ½ cup butter and ¼ cup non-fat yogurt or instead of 1 cup oil, use ½ cup oil and 3/8 cup non-fat yogurt (1).
  • Add veggies and fruit (ex. carrots, zucchinis, apples) to dips, sauces, baked goods and anything else that can become more powerful in nutrition.
  • For every starchy appetizer, double the number of fresh fruit and veggie selections. Ex. for a bowl of pita chips, have a dish of seasonal fruit and a veggie plate of bell peppers.
  • Use smaller utensils for serving higher-calorie options such as nuts/trail mix, casseroles, dips etc.
  • Limit the punch and soda and allow guests to make their own spritzers with sparkling water and 100% fruit juice varieties. Place water at every seating area for your guests to stay hydrated without the calories.
  • Although smaller plates certainly reduce portion size, it is hard to eat a plant strong meal on a 4" plate. Provide larger bowls close to the plant-strong options and use smaller plates near the more calorie-dense options.
  • Label food items by their name or ingredients, particularly for those who have dietary intolerances or any other restrictions.
  • Focus on variety (plant and animal proteins, healthy fats, whole grains and of course, lots of fruits and veggies).
  • Don't overwhelm your guests with too many new overwhelm your guests with too many new food options but at the same time, introduce others to a few new flavors by preparing a home-cooked dish inspired by your favorite blog or cookbook, rather than purchasing a dish at your local grocery store.
  1. Source:
(article written by me from a past Iron Girl article)
Looking for a few good recipes for the upcoming 4th of July holiday?
CLICK HERE for 3 of my delicious creations, including my watermelon salad, fresh bean salad and Red, White and Blue inspired shortcake.


    Swim set, podcast link and tri-colored quinoa w/ tempeh

    As I have mentioned several times, I just love the Ironman journey. This time around, sharing it with Karel has been extra special for we have both been able to see progress within each other and that is really neat to see. Karel continues to push me on the bike and in return I get the reply "great job, babe" as I smile every-so kindly to thank him for the suffering. But on the flip side, Karel has really worked hard on his swimming and I can't believe he just started swimming 1 year ago!! I have really enjoyed helping Karel learn to swim and to be there to witness his major swimming breakthroughs. Karel started very slow, working on form for he knew he had a year to train for the IM and there was no need to rush speed when form is the most important part of swimming efficiently. 

    The issue for many triathletes who struggle with swimming is the exhaustion that comes from swimming. No matter how fast or slow in the water, how long or short, it is just exhausting and it's not the same kind of exhaustion that you get from pushing yourself during a run or bike set. Although swimming is non weight bearing, one would think it would require less energy to perform. However, any form of exercise increases your breathing rate and as you know, when you swim you do not have a lot of opportunities to breath (or to take in a full inhale and exhale). Seeing that swimming (like any exercise) increases your heart rate and your blood circulation in response to your effort/intensity, your lung capacity, the efficiency in which you take in oxygen and transfer it to blood vessels as well as your form/strength in the water to push past the water's resistance, determine how fast and how far you can swim.

    Overtime, your respiratory system will get stronger and you will find your lungs working more efficiently to help you with exchange of gases (oxygen/carbon dioxide). Thus, before you get focused on being fast in the water, it is very important to work on your stroke and swimming effortlessly (as possible) so that you can train the body to perform with the least amount of energy expenditure. The speed will come, just be patient. 

    I have been giving Karel swim sets for the past few months and they are really paying off. It is amazing that he is so strong in the water although he does get tired which is to be expected. But, he refuses to give up so he is in the pool 3 times a week working on his form and just being as comfortable as possible in the water. 

    On Tuesday before our brick run (immediately after swim) we had a great swim set focusing on a little speed and then pacing. I am trying to help Karel learn how to tolerate lactic acid in the water but not exhausting him (which is what happened a few months ago when Karel would just do fast swims and we figured he wasn't doing any good with consistency for he was just exhausting himself for upcoming workouts). 

    Here's the set we did: 
    3000 yards

    500 warm-up
    Main set 3x's: 
    3 x 100's fast w/ 15 sec rest (I did them on 1:30, Karel did them on 1:45)
    300 steady IM pace (ideally, going the same pace as your cycle, about 15-20 seconds or so per 100 slower than your "fast" pace). 
    50 EZ recovery before repeating (or rest 2-3 minutes)

    500 pull stretching things out (w/ buoy/paddles)
    100 cool down

    On Wednesday I had the opportunity to do a podcast with Real Women on Health and Iron Girl and it was a lot of fun as I got to talk about my favorite topics......nutrition, fitness and health! Here is the 30 minute podcast for your listening pleasure if you want to hear my thoughts on eating for fuel, health and pleasure.

    I made the most delicious creation the other night and I am so excited to share it with you. I visited wholefoods the other day to explore some new foods to add to our diet and I picked up tri-colored quinoa. Prepared the same as regular quinoa with a nice nutty taste. Speaking of nutty, Karel and I just love tempeh for its taste but it is also packed with protein. It can taste a little bland so I recommend cooking it in a little olive oil (cubed) or you can try to find flavored tempeh (just watch the added sodium). 


    Tri-colored quinoa stir fry
    Sweet Peppers

    1. In cooking pot, prepare quinoa 
    2. In large skillet, turn to medium heat and add a little olive oil (~1-2 tsp per 3 ounces tempeh per person) and cook cubed tempeh until golden brown (toss occasionally). Season with a pinch of salt, turmeric and oregano (pepper optional). 
    3. While tempeh is cooking, prepare asparagus by chopping off ends (1 inch) and microwave in shallow dish for 3 minutes until tender (maybe 4 minutes if needed). Then chop. 
    4. When tempeh begins to turn golden, add ~1-2 tsp olive oil and add pepper and mushrooms. Toss and reduce heat to low and cover (may need to add a little cooking spray to prevent sticking) and toss occasionally. Let cook for 5-8 minutes or until soft but not browned. 
    5. Add asparagus to pan, toss and cook for 1-2 more minutes and then turn off heat. 
    6. Assemble plate with ~1/2 cup quinoa + veggie and tempeh mixture. Enjoy!


    MY PODCAST IS TOMORROW! Let's talk nutrition, fitness, health, training....

    How can exercise and nutrition help improve your strength, increase your energy levels, improve your health and help you meet your fitness goals? 
    Whether you're a runner, swimmer, biker or a fitness enthusiast who is new to exercise, it's time to join me for an Iron Girl event, welcoming women from all fitness levels. The only requirement is that you are passionate about living an active and healthy lifestyle.
    Learn how to start living a more balanced lifestyle where food tastes good, fad diets don't exist and crossing finish lines is the reward of healthy living choices.

    Strong is now the New Skinny! Let's learn how to be healthy in our active lifestyle.

    Marni Sumbal, owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition, LLC  will talk to us about her perspective on the importance of developing a healthy relationship with food and your body in order to reach personal health, fitness and body composition goals. 
    Join Kelley Connors, MPH, Host, Real Women on Health, with Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, LD/N and find out how you can join the movement to Get Strong with Iron Girl!

    I am so excited for tomorrow! Please join me in a new podcast from the RealWomen on Health! and Iron Girl on June 26 at 12:30 p.m. EST. I will explore the theme "Strong is the New Skinny" with my tips on living a balanced, healthy and active lifestyle all while having a healthy relationship with food and the body.

    Learn more  HERE and I hope you enjoy the show!

    Also - I am so excited that our new item for the Trimarni shop has arrived!! JERSEY's!!
    Many people pre-ordered black/white cycling jerseys and cycling shorts (which shipped yesterday!) but we now have a small inventory available of tri/run tops and bottoms (top pictures) as well as a few Jersey's and cycling bottoms which will be available soon on my website. Stay tuned via my FACEBOOK PAGE for more details. Thanks for your support!


    Do you have a fitness/athletic goal....Are you committed or obsessed?

    I can't believe we are nearing July!! In only 5 weeks, Karel and I will be sharing our first Ironman experience together in Lake Placid!! I feel like it was just yesterday when we registered for the race (last July) and it was just 10 weeks ago when we started our key "IM-focused training". Although I feel that athletes always have the opportunity to build on past seasons, there is a special kind of attention and focus that is often made when gearing up for an important race or any endurance event. We must never forget that the body must be trained in order to perform. With the good and the bad (lessons learned) days, any time you have a goal you must be willing to be disciplined, determined and committed. For many times, it is when things get tough or challenging that you are most vulnerable to quitting but many times, it is at that moment that you are about to make a breakthrough, a jump on progress or learn something new about yourself. 

    Although there are no guarantees in life, you may notice that for yourself (or for others) that there is a big connection between commitment and success. Although success does not have one standard definition, the person who dedicates him or herself to a goal will discover many opportunities of progress than compared to the person who is not focused or desires quick results.

    As an athlete all my life, I have discovered many definitions of success with my sport activities/events. Perhaps for yourself, if you have ever tried a new sport, distance or physical activity, you have the choice of doing it when it is convenient (or wishing for it to be easy) OR being committed and recognizing that the situations ahead of you will not always be within your comfort zone. But as we all know, "easy" is rarely associated with fitness gains for the body and mind loves to be comfortable and in order to get stronger, fitter or faster we must respect the body but still, push it to a higher limit. When we are committed to the task at hand, we get to experience this amazing thing called a "breakthrough" and consequently, when this happens, the situation gets easier but the next step is setting a higher goal. And thus, the cycle continues as we look for the easy way but we all know that anytime something gets easy, we look for another challenge and new goal.

    The issue for many age group athletes is this idea of commitment which we all must have when training for an event (ex. running race, triathlon, cycling event, etc.). There is an expectation that when you do an individualized sport, it is all about yourself and only you can do the work to get to the starting line and finishing line. Sure, we all need support and help along the way but our goals and level of commitment is based on how much we (YOU) want "it". Thus this is a great thing when you plan your races and training in order to peak at the right time but many athletes take this to extreme and commitment often turns into obsession.

    I remember when I was in graduate school to earn a Master of Science degree in Exercise Physiology, school was my life. I kept myself active and trained for a marathon (gotta put all that education to good use!) but above all, school was my top priority. I realized the educational undertaking of graduate school was only 1.5 years but I was fully committed to my education for those 1.5 years. I made sacrifices and did not have much life outside of school but I knew that it would all be worth it when it was over. I remember studying for my exit exams and that took isolation to a whole new level. Morning, noon and night, studying all day and even when I could squeeze in a workout, I felt like I was still studying (and often did on the treadmill or stationary bike). Again, it all worked out and it was worth it.

    I had the same experience while obtaining my RD credential but that road was a bit longer (3 years) and I knew that the 10-month internship would be the big commitment so I made sure that I kept myself as balanced as possible throughout the journey of being eligible for my internship while obtaining my pre req courses.

    So for anyone who has earned a degree, passed a certification or has dealt with a similar situation of being in school and having to be fully committed to studying all day, every get it. And even if it isn't education-related, it is likely that at some point in your career, that you have had to be 100% committed to the task at hand.

    Never would we complain to a person that they are studying too much or that they are obsessed with studying. We know that education is expensive, time consuming and for many, it is specialized. We often do anything and everything to support and encourage those who are in school (or doing something career related) for they need ongoing support and motivation to keep on moving forward and to not quit when things get tough, challenging and overwhelming.

    But for any age-group athlete, the commitment that is needed to train and prepare for an event can often get confused with obsession. And thus, rather than getting the support needed to continue, your support-crew begins to complain.

    When training begins to interfere with daily activities and relationships, when a missed workouts becomes the "worst" part of the day, when "perfect" is associated with expectations of working out, when you ignore the signs of injury, fatigue, burnout or illness, when your diet/training routine becomes extreme and isolated, when you set unattainable or unrealistic goals/expectations for yourself with training or you live in a bubble of working out, eating and sleeping, one may feel you are obsessed and have taken your training routine to the extreme.

    I realize that this can be a hard situation to handle for any athlete and my suggestion is to always set goals for yourself but recognize the journey that is needed to achieve goals. Often times, athletes get so obsessed with the end result that they lose sight of the journey and the progress that is being made. Many times, success comes from worrying less about what others are doing and just focusing on yourself and what you are able to do every day to move yourself closer to your goals.

    For myself, I can not dedicate more than 10-14 weeks of my life to a race. I have a lot of dedication within me and my type A personality allows me to stay focused with whatever task is ahead of me. Thus, if I have a goal, I find myself 100% committed to my goal. I try to establish my own definition of balance (which is often re-defined thanks to my supportive hubby) every time I have a goal so that I don't lose sight of all the many important parts in my life that make me happy. This year has been a great year for my career in that I have dedicated myself to many speaking events all over the US and many trips lasting for several days. I found myself with the same commitment and focus to my career as I do with my training and racing and I hope you can do the same.

    Whenever you train for an event, I encourage you to find a way to keep things balanced for as long as you can. Sometimes that means talking with your close friends and family and having an honest discussion with your boss and anyone else that relies on you. There are many people in this world that don't understand the commitment, dedication and desire to train for events, whether it is a 5K run/walk or an Ironman. But, you never know who you will inspire as you dedicate yourself to the task at hand in order to achieve your goal. So I encourage you to make sure that you do not become obsessed but instead, just stay committed so that your life isn't extreme in any one way (yes - I realize that training for an Ironman or marathon can be quite extreme but be sure to keep your on/off switch ON at the appropriate time for training and ON at the appropriate time for family, work and social obligations).

    Keep things fun, enjoy the journey and be sure you find yourself always making progress. You can't expect to have a great day every day but you can learn something from every workout/experience and if anything, be sure to never make the same mistake twice.

    With several 3-3.5 hour rides behind us, this weekend was all about putting the pieces together. With the focus on Ironman pacing (which works very well for me since Karel's IM pace is my IM pace when I draft on his wheel - although he is much faster so I cover more distance than by myself but we typically train by time so it all works out), our plan was a 4 hour ride + 4-6 mile run on Saturday (achieved!! 90 miles + 50 min run for me) and the BIG ride today. 

    Today's ride was all about getting comfortable with all the highs and lows that come from being on your bike for 5+ hours, practicing nutrition, practicing pacing, working on mental toughness (thanks Gloria for all my tips!) and well, just enjoying time together outside (which I just love sharing my 6th IM journey with Karel!). 

    112 mile ride + 10 min run (Karel ran 4 miles off the bike). 

    I can't believe it...never in my dreams did I think I would be riding this fast/strong behind Karel's wheel. October 2011 was the last time I biked 112 miles (in Kona for the World Championships). Two years later I have made a lot of progress and not a day goes by when I reflect on the hard work, fun and tough days on the bike to be able to ride 30 minutes faster on a training ride and to stay behind Karel's wheel for 112 miles.  For around 6 years, I have been riding with Karel. Never could I draft off his wheel like I can today. Karel and I still laugh about my very first 100 mile ride in the summer of 2006 when we were dating, while I was training for IMFL. Karel said he nearly feel asleep and it was the longest ride of his life. Of course, he was proud to be there with me but I think after that all he had on his mind was "I gotta get this girl faster!" 
    Still I am challenged on the bike with certain workouts (and depending on the day - my body recovers very quickly but I don't always have perfect days) and not always can I do his workouts (especially when he was training for cycling and crit races - I didn't even try for some of his short crit-focused workouts). But whenever possible, I try to push myself on the bike and I can only do that if I believe in myself and that I can't doubt myself until I try. I have been dropped on many group rides in the past, I have struggled to stay confident when my legs hurt and I have often found myself comparing myself to those who are faster. But with everything that may have kept me from thinking I could get better, I used it all as motivation that as long as I don't give up, I can make progress. 

    As you continue with your athletic journey or think about setting a goal for yourself with fitness, I encourage you to give yourself a time-frame. Don't make it too long, don't make it too short. Think about the journey ahead of you and don't ever give up. I promise....some progress is always better than no progress.